Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline could spur a flurry of movement throughout the league. Whether or not the Trail Blazers will take part in that action is another question. If Neil Olshey does jump into the fray, there is one player that has generated a plethora of interest in Portland: Timberwolves forward Robert Covington.
Covington, a two-way forward on a friendly contract, looks like an ideal fit in the Blazers’ system. In order to get a better understanding of Covington’s situation in Minnesota, Blazer’s Edge reached out to Zone Coverage staff writer and reporter Dane Moore.
Blazer’s Edge: Robert Covington’s potential availability has placed him at the forefront of coveted trade targets. What is it about him that makes him so attractive to teams that feel like he is the final ingredient to a winning recipe?
Dane Moore: I mean… he probably is. The issue I see with many of the teams theoretically targeting him: Do they have the main ingredients?
That is just a really important question to know your answer is yes to before trading for Covington, in my opinion. I say that because he’s not gonna be cheap to acquire. Leaving out my personal view of Covington (which I’m sure we’ll get to later), you just take in the external variables attached to his asset profile, and you have a piece that looks like it should be pretty expensive. The main two variables being his contract and the Timberwolves’ front office’s motivation.
We all know the contract is good — two more years after this one for about $12.5 million annually. The fact that he’s nowhere near expiring leaves the Wolves’ front office not needing to worry about him slipping away for nothing. I mean, is what they can trade him for really going to drop this summer? Next year’s deadline?
Just as a player though, he’s an attractive ingredient because he fits the taste pallet of pretty much any team. He can play either forward position both offensively and defensively and he can have a profound impact on both sides of the ball regardless of position. He can space the floor. He’s shown a growing driving game. He’s a steal machine. And he sees the floor very well defensively.
BE: Now that his value is established, is he actually on the trade block from what you are hearing? If he is, are the Timberwolves feeling the pressure to make a move that features Covington prior to the deadline?
DM: My sense is that they won’t trade him unless it is for a special piece in return. One that brings more out of Karl-Anthony Towns and better fits KAT’s age curve.
Now, that piece doesn’t have to come directly from the one trade. That’s what opens the window for the team like the Blazers a bit. They’re not going to give that special piece back in the trade (CJ, Nurk, etc), but they could give intriguing assets (Simons, picks, etc) that could be re-routed by the Wolves to get whatever that theoretical special piece may be.
The question, I think, is whether or not the Wolves would trade for those assets now and wait until the summer to re-route them for something else. For example, if the Wolves are dead set on D’Angelo Russell but the Warriors don’t want to trade Russell until the summer, would the Wolves hold the Covington asset haul until then?
My gut answer to that would be no. I think they’re walking a delicate line with KAT and his happiness. Covington is KAT’s best friend on the team. Trading Covington and saying, “just wait, Karl, we think we’ll be able to trade these picks we got for someone in the summer,” I think that would be super risky.
BE: In your opinion, what type of trade package are the Timberwolves looking for? Is it young players, draft compensation, salary relief, or an established player (or multiple role players)?
DM: Ultimately, they want high-end talent. They’re not looking for a few nice pieces; they’re looking for one great one. So draft compensation is only attractive if it could be repackaged in another trade and into a high-end talent.
Salary relief never hurts. But that’s only really meaningful if it’s Andrew Wiggins they’re getting off, and that would be quite the undertaking by anyone. Gorgui Dieng is the other bloated contract on the books for next season. Would it be nice to get off the final $17 million he’s owed next year? Sure, but that wouldn’t create max cap space for them this summer.
So as it pertains to the Blazers, assuming we’re keeping McCollum off the table (duh), then it’s probably a young player — like Anfernee Simons — plus draft compensation. Along those lines, the Wolves could repackage those assets for Russell-or-something, or they could convince KAT that Simons is their Russell. In other words, I think discussions start with putting Simons on the table.
(Side note: I don’t mean to offend anyone if they think that’s way too much to ask. That’s just what I think it would ultimately cost. Which might not be a good deal for Portland.)
BE: Can you explain how a less-than-ideal return for Covington could damage what appears, at least from the outside, to be a declining relationship with Karl Anthony-Towns?
DM: As mentioned above, KAT loves Covington. They’re friends but it’s more like a big brother deal. Towns really looks up to him.
I just don’t think they trade Covington unless they get KAT back another buddy. I guess I don’t know that to be a must, but I think it would be really bold not to. The Wolves have lost the last 15 games KAT has played in, and they’re 12-33 since KAT snapped at Kendrick Perkins on twitter for sleeping on the Timberwolves.
Things are just weird right now. Stirring a pot that doesn’t need anymore spoons would be bold.
BE: Hypothetically, is there a package that the Blazers could put together for Covington that would entice the Wolves? Bonus points if it doesn’t include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic.
DM: I think it starts with Simons. But I just don’t know if Simons is, like, THE GUY that they’re looking for. So it would probably be about how effectively they could re-flip Simons for that high-end talent.
In an asset vacuum, I think Simons plus Portland’s pick this summer is plenty of value. It’s just—is that the type of value the Wolves can use? A gift card to In-N-Out isn’t very attractive if you’re vegan.
BE: Finally, what is your gut feeling about the Wolves’ deadline action, will they move Covington?
DM: I just don’t see why they have to do it now. I don’t think Covington’s trade value droops much by this summer. So why rush it? You rush it if you have the perfect return coming back. Hard for me to find that perfect deal.
I think they only move him if they finally align a Russell trade and need some more assets and/or outgoing money. Probably only happens in a 3-team deal, and those are pretty rare. So gut is no move for Covington.
You can find more of Moore’s work at Zone Coverage.